What is the NWO Theme Cognition and Behaviour

By nature, we all display intelligent behaviour. We have no trouble in recognising the people around us, walking, reading the newspaper, driving a car and now and then pausing to count our change, listen to the radio, make a phone call and so on. The question is how we do it. A large part of the explanation is that we are familiar with our environment and with ourselves and able to process this knowledge. The theme of Cognition and Behaviour has to do with the study of knowledge, knowledge processes and the way in which our brains represent and process knowledge.

Cognition and Behaviour

Cognition is not confined to people and animals; it is also a characteristic of artificial and virtual systems. Over the last fifty years, cognition has become amenable to conceptual and experimental analysis and there has been an impressive growth in the relevant disciplines. Multidisciplinary cooperation and the use of new techniques are likely to offer still more interesting new insights. Research on this theme will primarily aim to clarify fundamental laws of information and information processing and seek to explain how knowledge is acquired and used in personal, social, cultural and digital contexts.

Other promising fields of inquiry are behaviour and evolution, language acquisition, animal behaviour, knowledge retrieval, and cognitive disorders. High-level research on cognitive and behavioural processes is being conducted at various places in the Netherlands. In 1997, the Foresight Steering Committee (OCV) published a report on cognitive studies in the Netherlands. By launching Cognition and Behaviour as a major research programme in 2001, NWO is fulfilling one of its recommendations. Another – the establishment of a facility equipped with modern brain-scan technology specifically for use in fundamental research on cognition – has already been fulfilled under NWO’s major equipment investment programme (NWO-Large). The added value of creating a separate NWO research theme in this area is that it will bring together all the disciplines most closely involved (including the neuro-sciences, linguistics, psychology/education, artificial intelligence and – via the evolutionary point of view – economics, soci ology, politics and ethology) at a time when a number of lines of research are converging to produce a common conceptual and methodological framework requiring close reciprocal communication and collaboration.

The potential applications of the results of research on this theme are many and various. Greater insight into cognitive processes and the way the human brain functions can be combined with ICT expertise to produce a marked impro- vement in interaction and collaboration between people and computers. Greater knowledge of neuro-biological and psychological processes will expand diagnostic and therapeutic opportunities for dealing with psychiatric and neuro-degenerative diseases involving the disturbance of cognitive processes (such as Alzheimer’s). In our rapidly ageing society, this is a matter of crucial importance. A better understanding of processes of knowledge acquisition and information processing will create the prospect of more effective methods of education. An improved grasp of the factors underlying behaviour will offer a firmer basis on which to influence and control negative behaviour. Finally, application of the evolutionary point of view in social science research can lead to improved ways of dealing with problems resulting from the decline in social solidarity and political commitment.

Cultural HeritageEthical and Social Aspects of Research and InnovationsShifts in GovernanceCognition and BehaviourFundamentals of Life ProcessesSystem EarthDigitalisation and InformationNano-SciencesEmerging Technologies

Graphic designer Rhonald Blommestijn (Amersfoort) was inspired by the nine NWO Themes. Navigate to the different thematic subjects by clicking the emblems.